The Wanderers

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chapter 18

I woke up in the morning with a killer headache. I pulled the covers back and noticed I was still wearing the same clothes as yesterday. “What the?” I said to myself, confused. I looked over to see Josie was sound asleep in her bed. Then I looked around the room for some clues as to what happened, but the more I tried the worse my headache got. I got up slowly and got some aspirin from the first aid kit, grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, and popped the maximum dosage allowed. Then I changed out of my clothes, into some sweats, and went back to bed. I knew from experience that sleep was the best thing for this migraine.

When I woke up the second time, the headache was gone, and Josie was sitting on her bed eating a piping, hot pizza. “Pizza?” she said, offering me a slice.

“For breakfast?”

“Ella, it’s one o’clock in the afternoon.”

I rolled over and looked at my clock. She was right. “I can’t believe I slept that long. Why didn’t you wake me?”

Josie shrugged. “You looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to disturb you.” I sat up and looked at the delicious pizza. I watched the steam rise and rubbed my grumbling belly. Josie pushed the box towards me and I helped myself to a slice. “So how was your date with Jack last night?”

“Good, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Well, I don’t really remember much,” I said, scratching my head, feeling a slight headache starting to return. “We went to dinner, then coffee, and then I don’t remember anything after that,” I said, pressing my fingers to my temples to try and relieve some of the pressure.

“You okay?” Josie asked concerned.

“Yeah, I just keep getting this killer headache.”

“I had a small one when I woke up, but now it’s gone. You think maybe it started last night and that’s why you don’t remember much.”

“That would explain why I still had my clothes on from last night.”

“Wait, you fell asleep in your clothes? Me too, how weird is that? You don’t think, oh my God, what if there’s a gas leak and we -”

“Stop right there,” I said, ending her ridiculous ramble. “First off I’m sure it was just a coincidence we both fell asleep in our clothes or a totally reasonable explanation.”

“Okay but we both had headaches and –”

“And we both woke up. If there was a gas leak so bad that we passed out neither of us would be here right now. We’d be in the hospital with everyone else on our floor, hooked up to oxygen tanks.”

“Oh yeah, I guess you’re right,” she said, blushing at her overreaction. “Care to share your reasonable explanation?”

“Well mine is easy. Clearly I had one of my migraines. That would explain why I didn’t remember much and why I was still wearing my same clothes from the night before, which also reminds me I should apologize to Jack.”

“And what about me?” she asked, not completely convinced.

“Were you drinking last night?” I asked.

“Well, duh,” she said rolling her eyes. I looked at her letting her know that should have been the most obvious answer from the beginning. “Oh,” she said, catching on. “Whatever, I’m over it.” She finished her slice of pizza and dusted off her hands. “Let’s do something.”

“Like what?” I asked, not really in the mood to do much.

“Well you know what the perfect cure for a headache is?” she said, eyebrows raised.

I smiled, knowing exactly where she was going with this. “Shopping,” we said in unison. Josie hopped off her bed and started to get dressed. She was throwing clothes everywhere, picking up different pieces and smelling them to see if they were clean or not.

“You know, maybe you should just clean instead,” I suggested.

She gave me a disgusted look. “Ugh! Just the thought of cleaning gives me hives,” she sighed dramatically.

I sat on Josie’s bed and helped myself to another slice of pizza while she dug through her clothes in an effort to find something clean. “You’re not going dressed like that, are you?” she asked, slightly appalled.

I rolled my eyes. “It will take me five minutes to get ready.”

“Chop, chop let’s go,” she clapped.

“Can’t I finish eating first?” I held up the half-eaten slice of pizza. “You’re not even ready yet.” I pointed at her. She took another slice of pizza and headed to the door. “Where are you going?”

“To the bathroom, geez.” She opened the door making it creak. The sound gave me a sudden flash, an image of Tristan busting down the door. I shook my head, dismissing the image, to find Tristan standing on the other side of the door. “Oh hey Tristan, Ella’s inside.” I could have killed her for that. I gave Josie the look of death and mouthed the word ‘traitor’. She just smiled and wiggled her fingers waving goodbye.

Tristan took a step into the room, but that was it, he didn’t come any closer. “What do you want, Tristan?” I asked harshly. I thought I had made it clear I wanted nothing more to do with him, but it was obvious he didn’t care what I wanted.

“I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

I found it hard to believe that was the only reason he was here. I could tell there was another reason. He had hidden intentions and I wasn’t going to give him the chance. “I’m fine as you can see. Is that all?”

“How’d your date with Jack go?”

“That’s none of your business,” I snapped, narrowing my eyes at him. He just nodded slightly as if I had just confirmed something. I stared at him. I knew he was fishing for something, but what, I didn’t know. I got another flash. It was so quick I didn’t even get the chance to commit anything to memory. Then my headache started again. This time it was piercing, like something knocking on my brain. “Ah!” I winced, gripping the sides of my head.

Tristan ran to my side. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s just this killer migraine I woke up with this morning. It went away for a while, but then it seems to keep coming back.”

He guided me to my bed to have a seat. “Here.” He reached up with his hands and gently rubbed his thumbs over my temples. I closed my eyes and within seconds my headache was gone. “Better?” he asked.

“Um, yeah,” I said, opening my eyes. “How’d you do that?”

“I guess I just have the magic touch,” he said, trying to smile but I sensed that it actually hurt him to. My eyes met his and I saw despair in them, an unrecognizable pain that no one should have to endure. I wanted to say something. Anything, but I couldn’t find the words.

“I should go,” he said, getting up.

My mouth stayed closed as he walked out and left leaving me feeling worse than I did when I had my headache. I fell back on the bed and covered my face with my arms. “You alright?” Josie asked, reentering the room. “Your headache’s not back is it?”

“No and yes, I’m fine,” I sighed, sitting back up.

“Boys?” she guessed next.

“Boys,” I nodded.

“Well you know shopping helps that too. So come on, get dressed,” she said, shoving me off the bed.

“Shopping is your cure for everything.”

“And it’s a very good one,” she smiled.

I dug through my drawers and took out a pair of jeans, a sweater, and got dressed. I didn’t feel like messing with my hair so I also threw on a hat. With Halloween and the sorority house party only a week away Josie suggested we search for costumes for the big bash. I had forgotten all about it and was surprised that Josie hadn’t already bought her outfit.

We found the only costume store in town and hoped there were enough supplies left to throw something together. The door echoed an eerie Halloween sound as we stretched it open and walked inside. The entire store was decorated for the holiday, everything from bats on the ceiling down to pumpkins and hay stocks littering the floor, and not excluding the Halloween themed music playing through the old speaker system. A lonely, elderly man was perched behind the counter. He watched us curiously as we rummaged through the stacks of merchandise. His stare started to give me the creeps so I ushered myself closer to Josie.

“What do you think?” Josie asked, holding up a mermaid costume. I crinkled my nose and she put it back on the rack.

There were very few things left. Our choices varied from a giant turtle, a lobster, or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, which I already was last year. We kept looking, digging through the racks in hopes of finding something someone missed. When I was about to give up, I found it, the perfect costume.

I untangled it from the mess and held it out for Josie to see. “What about this?”

Her eyes instantly lit up. “Ella, it’s beautiful.”

It was a short, white dress. The top was V-neck with spaghetti straps and an empire waist. The material was silk with sheer gauze over top and pure white angel wings to match. “And look, they have a matching one in black,” Josie said, pulling one out from the cluster of costumes that was hiding it. “You can be the good angel and I can be the bad one,” she smiled.

I found it very fitting.

“I’d say it’s the perfect choice,” said the clerk, making me jump.

He appeared out of nowhere, adding to the already creepy vibe I was getting from him. “Thanks,” I mumbled. I took a step away from him not liking the close proximity. He stood there, watching me and smilingly. I wasn’t sure if he wanted something or not, but I didn’t stick around to find out.

I pushed Josie towards the dressing rooms. “Gee whiz Ella, what’s the rush,” she complained after I almost made her fall.

“Sorry, I just wanted to get away from that clerk. Something about him, I don’t know. He gives me the heebie jeebies.”

“He’s probably just lonely,” Josie shrugged, looking at him make his way back over to the counter. I pulled the curtain aside and tried on the costume. Then I stepped out to show Josie. “Wow,” Josie breathed. “I’d say we found what we were looking for.” I stepped back into the dressing room and closed the curtain behind me. I paused before I got undressed. I had the weird sense someone was watching me. I peered out over the top of the curtain and noticed the strange man behind the counter was no longer there. I searched the room and found it empty. I stepped back and began to unzip my dress when I was startled by his voice.

“Is everything working out okay in there?” the clerk asked.

“Yes, fine,” I said, feeling skeeved out. I waited until I knew he was far enough away to finish changing “Josie, you ready?” I called, once I was out of the dressing room. Not two minutes later she was out of the room and pulling me to the back of the store. “What are you doing?”

“We need to accessorize.”

“Let’s just make this quick, okay. I’m really starting to not like this place.” Josie took the hint sensing my uneasiness. I could tell she was also getting a weird feeling being here. We found the accessories we needed to complement our costumes. I got silver, knee high boots with a matching sparkling halo. Josie suggested we get wigs and eye masks to decorate ourselves. I went with a white wig that was cut into a chin length bob and parted on the side and Josie got a matching one in black.

Once we had everything we needed we made our way to the counter and placed our items in one big pile. The clerk slowly picked up each item one by one and scanned them moving at a pace slower than a snail. I knew Josie was getting impatient by the way she was shifting from one hip to the other, hoping he would hurry up.

After what felt like an hour, he was finally done ringing up all the items. “That’ll be 175. 85,” the clerk said, turning to me. Josie pulled out her card and handed it to him. He managed to peel his eyes away from mine long enough to take the credit card. Now I was the one who was staring. Under close inspection, just behind his ear was a flap of skin that looked like those bald caps Hollywood makeup artist used. I leaned in a little closer to get a better look. I thought maybe I was imagining things considering he had a thick head of dark brown hair.

I pulled back when he handed Josie back her card. He pushed his glasses up his nose reflecting back a pair of dark brown eyes. He smiled and his eyes flashed gold and then violet. I blinked and took a step back. He took off his glasses and wiped them clean with a handkerchief he had stashed in his cardigan then replaced them back on his face to reveal a pair of dark brown eyes. “Did you find everything you were looking for?” he asked, handing me a garment bag with my costume.

“This party is going to be killer,” Josie squealed.

“You both made a wise choice in your costumes. I have to say, they definitely are to die for,” the clerk said, smiling.

“Yes,” I nodded. The way he said it sounded like there was something else behind those words. I stood there, almost entranced by his kaleidoscope eyes. Josie grabbed my arm pulling me away. I shook my head telling myself my mind was just playing tricks on me. I attributed the color change of his eyes to the different colored flashing lights behind him reflecting on the glass counter, but that didn’t stop me from making a beeline for the door.

“Enjoy and have a nice day,” the clerk called out and waved as we left. I breathed a sigh of relief once we were outside the door. When I turned back and looked inside the man was gone. I shivered from his odd behavior and quickly took off with Josie to the craft store.

As soon as we got back to our room, Josie dumped all her stuff on her bed and began collecting the items she needed to make her mask. I sat down on my bed and watched Josie sift through everything we bought today. I couldn’t stop thinking about that odd man at the costume shop. “Aren’t you going to decorate your mask?” Josie asked.

“Huh? Oh yeah,” I said, getting up.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, just a little weirded out by that store clerk.”

“Who, the old man dressed like Mr. Rogers?” I nodded. “He definitely was creepy but nothing to worry about. I’m sure he’s just some old perv’ who gets his jollies by scaring the shit out of people.”

“Yeah, ’cause that makes me feel much better,” I laughed as I sat crossed legged on the floor, spreading out my supplies in a more organized fashion as oppose to Josie’s careless mess.

“It’s Halloween. Maybe he was just playing the part, trying to up the spook factor.”

“I guess,” I shrugged, not wanting to think about it anymore.

We spent the rest of the day decorating our masks. We had glitter, feathers, and gems everywhere. It was stuck to our fingers, hair, and the floor. When we were all done, we placed the masks by the windowsill to dry in the sun. Then we cleaned up our mess the best we could. “I think the carpet is going to be permanently glittered,” Josie laughed.

“We might be to if we don’t go wash this stuff off,” I joked. Josie and I skipped down the hall to the bathroom and removed all the glitter and glue from our hands, arms and where ever else we could find it. Twenty minutes later, and glitter free, Josie and I headed back to the room. On the way back I decided to stop by Jack’s room and explain to him what happened last night. I was sure he thought I was giving him the brush off and I wanted to let him know that wasn’t the case.

“Hey Josie, I’m going to see if Jack’s in his room real quick,” I said, stopping at his door. I knocked while Josie leaned against the wall and waited with me. I got no answer. I knocked harder this time and the door opened a crack. I looked at Josie and she shrugged. I didn’t want to just barge in, but clearly Josie thought differently. “Josie, wait,” I protested, but I was too late.

She swung the door open and we both stood there staring into the pitch black room. I felt around on the wall for a light switch and flicked on the lights.

Josie screamed. I gasped in horror at the sight before us.

It was Jack’s roommate. He was lying on the floor. His lifeless body sprawled out in a puddle of his own blood. At first I thought it was just some horrible Halloween prank, but the smell, the smell like he had been here for days told me different.

I walked closer to the body.

“What are you doing?” Josie grabbed my arm and tried to stop me, but I shook her off. I didn’t know why, but I wanted a closer look, just to be sure.

It was horrible. It looked like a scene straight out of the movies. Blood was everywhere, soaked into the floor, on the walls, and ceiling. The sheets were stained dark maroon. I couldn’t seem to steel myself away from the sight before me. “Ella, we need to get out of here,” Josie said, pulling me out of the room. She dragged me down the hall and to our room where she took out her phone and dialed 911.

I sat on my bed, motionless, staring into nothing. Still unaware of what I just saw, not able to comprehend.

Then it hit me.

“Jack!”

“Huh?” Josie said, still a little shell shocked.

“Where’s Jack? What if he was kidnapped, or worse, the killer got him to and we just haven’t found the body yet?” I said, rambling hysterically.

“Ella,” Josie sat down next to me. “I’m sure Jack is fine. He probably wasn’t even there,” she said, trying to help me relax. I had this nagging feeling in my gut that something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I pulled my phone out and opened up my contacts list. I scrolled down the names and numbers wondering who I should call. The more I thought about it the more I realized the only person I wanted to or could talk to was already here with me. So I closed my phone and waited.

It wasn’t even ten minutes later when the police arrived. They took us down to the station for questioning. We told them over and over again we just found him. That was it. Three hours later, and several threats from my father over the phone for questioning us without a lawyer present, they finally let us go. Josie called Billy to come get us. She didn’t feel safe staying in the dorms and was going to spend the night with Billy at the fraternity house. She insisted I stay with them but I refused. I wanted to be in my own bed. I wasn’t going to have someone scare me away.

Josie tried suggesting I stay with Tristan. I laughed and told her I’d feel safer by myself. My dad also suggested I find somewhere else to stay the night. He said if I wanted he would call Dean to come down and stay with me, but I told him the same thing I told Josie that I would be fine and there would be plenty of security surrounding the building. It took everything in my power to convince my mom not to fly out. I didn’t know what my dad said to her, but he pulled off a miracle and calmed her down enough to keep her from hopping on the next flight. I was happy to avert that crisis, which allowed me some relaxation while we drove back to the dorms.

When they dropped me off out front, Josie tried one more plea for me to stay with her. I could tell she didn’t want to let me go. I promised her I would be fine and if I wasn’t I would call. The second I stepped out of the car I was bombarded by reporters, questioning me about what happened, what I saw. Billy got out of the car and escorted me inside, trying to protect me from all the chaos. George met us at the door. He angrily waved off the cameras and helped us inside locking the door behind us to keep the vultures out. “Don’t worry you’ll be safe in here,” George said. “I won’t let anyone get by me.”

“Thanks George,” I said, smiling politely at him.

“Ella?” I turned my attention to Billy. “If you change your mind, don’t hesitate to call. No matter what, okay?”

“Thanks Billy, but I think I’ll be alright. Besides, I got George,” I said, tilting my head in his direction.

Billy gave me a look saying he didn’t quite believe George was the man for the job, but at least he was better than nothing. “And just so you know,” he started nervously, “Tristan knows what happened and he’s going to be staying in his dorm tonight so...if you...”

“Got it, no worries, I’ll be fine,” I said, feeling like a broken record. He waved good bye and braced himself for the media bedlam. I decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator knowing it would be less crowded. I took my time climbing the stairwell. When I finally reached my floor I pushed open the heavy metal door and was greeted by a sea of men in blue surrounding the hall. They were everywhere questioning students. Asking them if they heard or saw anything, how well they knew the deceased, if he had any enemies, and so on. They also asked if he knew or was friends with Skylar Hawkyns.

That one made me stop.

What did this have to do with Skylar? Did they think the incidents were related? I glanced back over my shoulder at one cop. He eyed me suspiciously. I turned around and kept walking straight to my room and quickly closed the door behind me. I leaned against the door in the darkness with my eyes shut trying to catch a breath. I exhaled and opened my eyes. I was startled when I found Jack standing by my bed.

“Jack!” I ran up to him and threw my arms around him. “Oh thank God you’re okay.” He stiffened at the embrace and pulled back looking at me confused. “Where were you?” He didn’t say anything. He just kept that puzzled look on his face. “Oh it doesn’t matter. I’m just glad you’re okay,” I said, hugging him again.

I felt him tense up. He tore himself away from me and backed up quickly. “What is it?” I asked, and then realized I probably owe him an apology from last night. “Jack, I’m sorry about last night.” He furrowed his brows and I knew now why he was acting weird. “It’s just when I get migraines, it gets bad, and I don’t remember much afterward.”

A malicious smile spread across his lips and he threw his head back laughing. I looked at him not understanding what was going on. “Jack...what’s so funny?”

“You don’t remember anything from last night?”

I shook my head. “No, the last thing I remember is getting coffee at the student center and then you dropping me off. The rest is blank.”

“That’s right. You got a headache so I dropped you off and you went to bed. That was it,” he said. But something about the way he said it made my skin crawl. He sounded as though he was following a script, his voice was very monotone. Something started to bug me. His reaction when I ran over to him, the way he was watching me, and that laugh. I started to get a bad feeling in my stomach.

I felt compelled to ask, “Where did you go last night after you dropped me off?”

“I went home to see my mom,” he said with a straight face. “I just got back now.”

I wanted to ask him why he was here in my room instead of talking to the cops, but was afraid all he would give was another well-practiced answer. He took a step closer to me. I felt the sudden urge to run, to get as far away as possible, but I didn’t move. Something was telling me not to make any sudden movements, so I kept still. My eyes searched his face. He seemed different somehow, older, worn down. His usual shy demeanor was replaced with a self-confidence you normally get from people on the verge of something big. I always thought of Jack as this harmless, young man, who lived down the hall, but now I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t understand how I was suddenly afraid to be alone with him, but my gut was telling me to get away while I had the chance. Of course I ignored it.

“Ella, there’s something I need to tell you,” Jack said gravely.

“What is it, Jack?” I asked cautiously.

“It’s about Tristan. He’s dangerous,” he blurted out.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, not liking where this was going. This wasn’t the first time Jack accused Tristan of something and I wasn’t going to stand here and let him do it again. Tristan was many things, but dangerous wasn’t one of them.

“Ella, he lied to you about Skylar. He was with her before she died.”

“I know that. Everyone knows that. We saw them in the quad together after the fight.”

He took a step closer and I suddenly felt nauseous. “No, Ella, after that. I saw him with her and they were arguing again.”

“Why are you telling me this and why haven’t you told the police?” I asked, not convinced he was telling the truth.

“Because I was scared. It was stupid, I know. I should have said something and now look what happened,” he said, bowing his head, but I could tell it was not genuine.

“Wait, you’re saying your roommate’s death has something to do with Skylar’s?”

He nodded, keeping the mournful look on his face. “I told him what I saw and he said he was going to confront Tristan about it. He was supposed to last night...and now...”

“You can’t be serious? You think Tristan did this?” I asked, shocked at the implication.

“Come on Ella, you saw how dangerous he was. You were there that night when he almost choked me to death.”

“Jack no...There’s no way,” I said unconvincingly. I crossed my arms annoyed with where this conversation was going. Tristan was not a murderer.

“Ella, I came here to warn you,” he came at me with urgency, grabbing my arms making me feel uncomfortable. “Tristan is not who you think he is. You need to stay away from him or you could be next,” he warned. I stared into Jack’s eyes and got an icy, cold, chill that traveled all the way down my back. I shivered from his touch.

There was a knock at the door. “Vermont Police Department, open up.”

I turned back to Jack who now looked more frightened than I was. “Ella, promise me you’ll stay away from Tristan,” his voice was chilling. “Promise me.”

“Okay, I promise,” I said, although I would have said anything at that point so he would let go of me.

“I have to go.”

“Go where?”

There was another knock at the door, this one louder and more urgent. I broke free from Jack’s grasp and turned to open the door, but before I did I glanced back over my shoulder at Jack, who was no longer there.

What the hell?

I searched around the room thinking he was hiding somewhere, but didn’t have time to look thoroughly because the police kept knocking. I answered the door. “Good evening, Miss,” the officer said. “I’m sorry, but we have to clear out this floor. Do you have somewhere you can stay for the night?” I was so beside myself with everything that just happened I stared at him blankly. “Miss?”

“Yes...um...I can find a place to stay.”

“Okay, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to ask you to leave immediately. If it would make you feel safer we can have an officer escort you out,” he offered.

“No, thank you, that won’t be necessary.” I turned back and looked at my room, thinking what I needed to grab and the one thing that came to mind was Jake’s penguin. I walked over to Josie’s bed and grabbed it, along with my coat and purse. Then I closed the door behind me as the officer led me down to the lobby with the rest of the students.

I called Josie right away. Without a second thought she told me she and Billy would be there in five minutes. I hung up the phone and waited with the rest of the students from my floor. One by one they headed off or got picked up by a friend or family member. I sat and watched them all leave.

Twenty minutes later, still no Josie and of course I was the last one standing. “Hey, Ella,” a friendly, familiar voice called.

“Oh, hey George.”

“How you holding up, kiddo?”

“As good as can be expected I guess.”

“You have some place to stay tonight?” he asked, concerned.

“Yeah, Josie’s supposed to get me, but of course she’s late...as always,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Well, she might have a good excuse this time,” he said, pointing outside. “It’s a madhouse out there and traffic is backed up. Not to mention all the barricades the police put up and all the reporters.”

“I guess you’re right,” I sighed, looking at my watch again.

“Here, take this and go get yourself something to drink and a snack,” George said, offering me a few dollars.

“Oh, no thank you I –”

“Nonsense, take it,” he insisted. When I hesitated, he shooed me away. “Go. I’ll keep an eye on this little fellow for ya,” he said, referring to Jake’s penguin. I smiled, thankful, and walked over to the snack machine. I pressed number four for the powered doughnuts and then stepped to my right and pressed number three for the hot chocolate. As I reached for the cup I could feel my stomach start to do flip flops. I knew he was there. I felt him. I always felt when he was near.

I turned around slowly, careful not to spill my hot chocolate.

“Ella.”

“Tristan.”

“Do you need a ride anywhere?” he asked and I thought what a stupid question and lame attempt at conversation. He knew I had a car and would be in it right now if Josie hadn’t insisted on getting me.

“Josie’s coming to get me,” I said flatly.

“Do...do you want me to wait with you till they get here?”

“No, I’ll be fine,” I said, flipping my hair and walking away. I didn’t get very far. Tristan stopped me by grabbing my arm, tightly. I flinched. ‘He’s dangerous Ella, stay away from him’ I heard Jack’s voice in my head. I looked at Tristan, really looked at him. His face, his eyes, they always told a different story, but I wasn’t going to buy into it now. Not when he was like this. “Tristan, you’re hurting me,” I said and he let go instantly.

“Ella, I’m sorry –”

“Save it,” I said, putting my hand up to stop him. “I had enough of your apologies.” I was ready to walk away, but something was bothering me. Something Jack had said earlier. “Tell me something Tristan. Where were you before you came and got me the night we went to the art room?”

“I was in my room,” he said, looking puzzled.

“You didn’t go to see Skylar again?”

“She called me to meet her, but she never showed...why?”

“What about last night?”

“Ella, what’s this all about?”

I never in a million years would have thought Tristan capable of any of this, but after what Jack mentioned, the strange coincidences, and the way he was avoiding my questions, I just didn’t know who I could trust anymore. “Ella, did someone one say something to you?”

“No, just forget it.” I turned to walk away again, but he caught up to me and stopped me.

“Who told you?” he asked angrily.

“No one told me anything.” I tried stepping aside him to pass but he blocked my path.

“It was Jack, wasn’t it?” he said, his temper rising.

“No,” I said, not wanting to defend Jack but to get Tristan to back off.

He grabbed my shoulders. “What did he tell you? When did you see him? Was he in your room tonight? Damn it Ella tell me!” he yelled, shaking me.

I tried to push his hands off of me. “Let go of me!”

“Ella, you have to listen to me. Stay away from Jack, he’s dangerous.”

“That’s funny, he said the same thing about you,” I spat.

“You don’t believe him...do you?” he asked worried.

“I don’t know what I believe anymore.” And that was the truth.

“Is everything okay?” George called from down the hall. “Ella?”

“Yeah George...I’m fine,” I said, glaring at Tristan. I shook his arms off of me and stepped back. He looked defeated after what I just said, like I punched him in the gut. I walked away without another glance and left Tristan standing there with his shoulders slumped and head sagging.

When I got back up front I handed George his change. “Thanks, George.” He just smiled kindly at me while I returned to my seat in the corner.

Five minutes later Josie finally showed up. “Ella, I’m so sorry, traffic is ridiculous and they have like every exit blocked off and it took us like forever to get through with our ID’s and –” she rambled on and on.

“Josie, it’s fine,” I told her and she finally took a breath. “So I was thinking, instead of staying at the stinky frat house…” I turned to Billy. “No offense.”

“None taken.”

“How about we rent a room for the night?” I smiled, pulling out my emergency credit card.

“With a hot tub?” Josie asked, giddy.

“Of course.” Josie looked at Billy, then me. “Billy, you’re welcome too,” I said, not wanting him to feel left out.

“I don’t want to intrude. You girls do your thing.”

“Nonsense,” Josie said. “We’ll get adjoining rooms and you can invite one of the brothers to come along to keep Ella company.” This was not what I had in mind. I was about to protest when Josie said, “How about brother Dixon?”

“Josie, really, that’s not necessary.”

She leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Don’t worry, he’s gay and gives a killer pedicure.” I raised my brow and Billy nodded in agreement, obviously overhearing what Josie had said. I laughed and agreed Dixon would be the perfect fit.

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